Former James Island convent to become state park, event space

The town of James Island has plans for a new state park that sits on a historic site.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 5:30 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 7:20 AM EDT
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JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - The town of James Island has plans for a new state park that sits on a historic site.

James Island Mayor Woosley said the concept of turning this historic land into a state park began after the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy sold their May Forest Convent.

The former convent, which sits on 23 acres of land, could be used for walking and bike trails, weddings, conferences and educational field trips.

The state purchased the land where the May Forest Convent sits for over $23 million in 2021. The convent housed the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy since after World War II. It is now vacant and currently sits on Fort Johnson Road on James Island.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston said the remaining four nuns of Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy who were still living in the convent up until last fall willingly chose to sell their property because of their ages, with some currently living at Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Home.

Woolsey said the project has been a couple of years in the works once the convent was put up for sale and there were first talks about putting residential homes on the land. He said the convent is owned by the City of Charleston and not the town of James Island.

Woolsey said this project is going to extend into the Department of Natural Resources complex and said the state’s plan is to create parking spaces near the side of the convent which allows access into the DNR property which closes their gate for vehicles after business hours and on weekends.

Woolsey said the town is working with the American Battlefield Trust to purchase the MUSC property that is on the very end of the property. Long-range plans call for all of the physical facilities of the College of Charleston and Department of Natural Resources buildings to move to the southern part of the property to create a research academic complex.

Woolsey said plans for the northern side of the property include a state park and his goal is to get Fort Johnson back open to the public as a park facility.

“The northern part on the harbor side will become the nucleus of a state park. Now our understanding my understanding is that the department of natural resources owns the property but will be managed by the South Carolina Parks authority,” Woolsey said. “And the town has been involved with other stakeholders in this planning process and I’ve strongly backed this. I think it’s a very good thing for our island and for Fort Johnson.”

Woolsey said the full vision for this project will take years or so but expects the May Forest Convent space to be open again within a year or so.

MUSC’s property houses Fort Johnson, where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. The Harbor Master’s House, which served as a quarantine station for immigrants entering Charleston in the 1800s, has been vacant since 2015.